Irish Roots

Online records over-promised and under-delivered


I was in the National Archives the other day looking at the Galway 1821 census fragments, when it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be there. I should be at home in slippers and dressing-gown, sipping my Earl Grey and looking at the Galway 1821 census fragments on the National Archives website.

The surviving fragments of the 1821-1851 censuses in Ireland are paltry compared to what survives on the neighbouring island, but still very significant for those few areas they cover. At the Back to Our Past exhibition last October, there was a clear commitment that these fragments would be online before Christmas, with more goodies – particularly Griffith’s pre-publication notebooks and 19th-century will records – coming after Christmas. But so far, nothing.

Mind you, the Archives are not alone. Also promised before Christmas, and still undelivered, are General Register Office indexes on and that prodigal son of Irish research, the Wexford church record transcripts, long awaited on

One group missing a target might be regarded as misfortunate. Three looks like a sociological phenomenon. The only project to keep a promise was the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland’s Valuation Office revision books, which brings uncomfortably to mind the Unionist stereotype of feckless Southern Catholics promising you whatever you want and then vanishing.

On the other hand, on a recent visit to the Valuation Office, a prototype of an unannounced digital version of the revision books was sitting quietly in a corner of the research space for the public to try out and comment on. So far, it only covers counties Kerry, Mayo, Tipperary and parts of Dublin, but it’s already a delight and a revelation. If there’s a moral, it has to be “under-promise, over-deliver”.

I have mixed feelings about all these projects, though. When they eventually arrive – and I have no doubt that they will – I may never need to get out of pyjamas again.